Many social scientists have concluded that school improvement can have little effect on inequality in a world where enduring neighborhood and family inequality constrain the life chances of low-income children. In this talk, I will present new theory that
explains a) why low-income children benefit more from early schooling than do high-income children; b) why this equalizing effect diminishes with child age; and c) why elementary school improvement can be a powerful strategy for reducing inequality. The theory
is based on a counter-factual account of the consequences of school attendance. Empirical evidence on the expansion schooling supports this theory. Next, I will share new evidence from two randomized trials that illustrate the potential power of ambitious
pre-school and elementary school reform to promote the cognitive skills of low-income minority children. Desegregation of neighborhoods and schools is not necessary to produce these effects, which have theoretical implications for improving the health and
well-being of children born in poverty.